For NBA fans, Carmelo Anthony has been an enigma.
On one hand, he is one of the most dominant and purest scorers in the league. His strength in the post against other small forwards makes him difficult to guard. His speed and outside shooting ability make him impossible to guard.
He developed into a pure scorer in Denver out of sheer necessity as he never played with another dominating players — except a past-his-prime Allen Iverson. Even at Syracuse, Anthony was given full reigns of the offense. In other words, defense was never a big buzz word in Anthony’s vocabulary.
That has been the biggest knock on Anthony throughout his career. He can score with the best players in the league, but he had fell woefully short of his potential. This was the guy who came into the league with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. They were the three golden children of the 2003 Draft. While Wade and James have competed for championships for the majority of their careers — one title and four Finals appearances between them — Anthony has been left behind. He has reached the Western Conference Finals once and then saw his team fade to oblivion.
The criticism on Anthony only heightened as he forced his way to New York to play with Amar’e Stoudemire. That move has not seen Anthony find success. Instead, it has left Anthony facing louder and louder criticism as the Knicks fall further and further out of the playoff picture.
After losing to the Nuggets at Madison Square Garden in double overtime Saturday, Anthony reflected on what more he can do in a rare moment of reflection for the offensive-minded All-Star forward. The Knicks were, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News writes, “punked” for the second straight game. And Anthony, who scored 25 points on 10-for-30 shooting, reflected on his role and the player he has become.
“There is a bunch of stuff that goes through my mind. What am I doing? What am I not doing? I have been in this situation before when shots don’t go in. Should I pass it more? I am sitting there thinking. Maybe I should take the blame for the games we are losing … our offensive struggles. I will take it.”
Anthony’s ball-stopping ways and penchant for mid-range jumpers have long been suspects in his team’s mediocre offensive performances. Anthony’s per-game numbers suggest he is one of the best players in the league. He is averaging 25.7 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game and a career-high 4.2 assists per game for the Knicks this year. All of those numbers are in line with his career averages.
All of those numbers should put him among the NBA’s elite.
Yet, Anthony does not hold up as well when you look at advanced stats and try to get behind the numbers. Unfortunately 30 field goal attempts are not too rare of an occurrence considering how much Anthony shoots. Anthony is averaging 21.3 field goal attempts per game. His usage rate is up to a career-high 35.5 percent and he has a career 31.3 percent usage rate. Many possessions end up with Anthony shooting it or turning it over.
When it comes strictly to his scoring, Anthony does a poor job getting to the line. He averages about eight attempts per game. He is not a foul-drawer, he is just a shooter.
Further complicating any analysis of Anthony, is where he takes his shots. He seems either to get his shots at the rim (5.3 attempts per game this year according to HoopData) or in the most inefficient area of the floor — 16-23 feet (6.4 attempts per game this year according to HoopData). Worse, on those shots from 16-23 feet, where on average Anthony takes more shots than anywhere else on the floor, he hits only 35 percent and is assisted on only 29 percent of those attempts.
It suggests Anthony settles for these long 2-point shots rather than using that stunning array of offensive ability we know he has.
When it comes to critics, these points are made against Anthony. It does not come out of hate, but more disappointment that Anthony is not all that he could be considering the talent and ability he has. That seems to be all fans and critics want from him.
Anthony now is seeing some of his best offensive games and his efforts going to waste on a team built around him and Stoudemire. The Knicks are coming to the realization that the team has been worse since the Anthony trade last February. And that is not a good thing for a team desperate for attention.
It might be asking too much to ask Anthony to change his game. After nine seasons in the league, it is going to take a lot to change his high-scoring, somewhat inefficient habits. That will not happen in one outing or with one break, waiting for Anthony’s injured wrist and ankle to fully heal.
As the losses pile up and Anthony comes to realize that life in the Big Apple is not as good as it appeared when he was in Denver, maybe that will create the change everyone wants to see in Anthony so he can reach his full potential.
Acknowledging the problem is the first step to correcting it. Maybe Anthony has reached that point in his career.